Too much choice at work just leads to paralysis by confusion

Motability3There is a general acknowledgement within the realm of FM and workplace that its world is changing; and that organisations must be ready and able to adapt to the shifting landscape, or else slip through the cracks and go under. Various factors are contributing towards this drastic reform, including three key infrastructures: technology, corporate and social. The rise of technology will play a significant part in the inevitable workplace revolution, as will the workforce of tomorrow. In addition to these technological advancements, five generations are now making up our modern workforces. It is, therefore, imperative that organisations offer a working model and a workspace that can be tailored to suit the multitude of traditional and modern workers, in order to meet current and future needs. Embedded in our psyche is the belief that the more choices we are presented with, the better, but is that true?

In his seminal book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that a consumerist society, which presents us with a myriad of choices every day – from what type of coffee to order, to where to go on holiday, and everything in between – offers an excess of choice, leading to an overload that makes you question your decisions before you even make them. In the long run, he suggests, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress.

This kind of consumer overload can also be applied to the workplace. And the onus is on business leaders to use their space more effectively in order to improve employee engagement, productivity, and general wellbeing. Being savvy with a space can also help organisations attract and retain talent, which is vital in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Our working culture has moved from a one-person, one-desk structure, where the only choice was where to sit in the staff restaurant, to an often completely decentralised model where people sit in different spaces throughout the day, depending on their tasks and the availability of space. This change has typically been introduced with little training on how to adapt to the environment and is not suitable for everyone. While extroverts might be inspired by the idea of sitting next to different people each day, or working in different spaces every hour, an introvert would find that disturbing and counterproductive.

British businesses need to embrace change if they’re to successfully rise to the challenges ahead. However, with the ever-evolving discourse and dialogue when it comes to matters of ‘work’ and ‘place’ we are now subject to a ‘paradox of choice’.

There is this deep-rooted idea that the more choice we have, the more freedom we have… Choice, therefore, has always been considered a ‘good thing’ – but is this really the case?

Organisations are constantly being bombarded with information – and ideas, theories, notions of best practice… In addition, businesses are having to sway to the rhythm of current trends; we can work where, when and how we want; on whatever devices we want, with the people we want (and don’t want); we can communicate how we want; sit where we want, eat, drink and socialise whenever and however we want… The list goes on.

Needless to say, we have so much, perhaps too much choice, and this choice can either empower or paralyse us; it can either help or impinge our ability to cope with change.”

The solution lies in the conclusion.

The most important step on this journey into the unknown is having an open and realistic conversation about where a business currently sits. It’s about boiling down all the options and condensing all the choice into a simple framework that focuses on how space, people and technology overlaps. In summary, it is only through honest and open probing that businesses can truly understand how to make the most of all this choice. Businesses need to focus on the space, the people and the technology at their disposal in order to sweat their assets.

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Leeson MedhurstLeeson Medhurst is Head of Workplace Consultancy at 360 Workplace.

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